1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a part of the automotive business?
I started my automotive journey in after sales, particularly vehicle servicing, and became quite familiar with the operational challenges that face automotive companies. I moved on to become the Group General Manager of Liberty, taking on the responsibility of securing growth, profits and market share across the group’s three automotive brands: Cadillac, Chevrolet, Opel and Kawasaki.
As a huge fan of these prestigious brands, I jumped at the opportunity to work towards raising their profile across the UAE. Sharing its passion for automotive engineering, my decision to join Liberty Automobiles was spawned by my fascination with its competitive and diverse portfolio of brands and products.
2. As the Group General Manager of Liberty Automobiles, you handle Cadillac, Chevrolet and Opel as well as Kawasaki. What is the positioning of each of these brands and how successful are they in the UAE market?
Every brand in our portfolio is unique. Starting with the Chevrolet brand being accessible to a large audience in the UAE, both Emaratis and Expats for its dependability, competitive offering and range of models, to the more niche European minded drivers who prefer the specific characteristics of the Opel brand. On the other hand, Our Cadillac line-up delivers an exceptional premium experience and finally, our Kawasaki range takes mobility to a whole different terrain and delivers different experiences.
Chevrolet is a long standing success story in the UAE and with its new line-up of SUVs , the story continues. In addition, we are already ahead in the Electrification race with the launch of the Chevrolet Bolt EV. Liberty Automobiles had the pleasure of delivering the first unit to a retail customer in the Middle East. Opel on the other hand, has a niche audience with specific requirements that are mostly shape and engine related. As for Cadillac, our iconic Escalade speaks for itself with its solid desirability and stature in the SUV segment. The Escalade was joined by another winner, our flagship sedan the CT6 that in many ways, be it design, innovation or technology represents the future of Cadillac models.
Very few people know that the term Jet Ski that is widely used to describe watercrafts is actually developed by Kawasaki. Additionally, till date, the Kawasaki Ninja enjoys a leadership position in the super sport and sport bikes. Kawasaki never failed to deliver on its promise of bringing to us the fastest Motorcycle and Jet Ski.
3. You spearheaded Liberty’s growth to become the top dealer for Cadillac in the Middle East. What are the key factors that made you successful?
The spectrum of services offered by Liberty is geared towards providing an outstanding car-buying and ownership experiences across a wide range of products and services, which include the new-car-buying experience, cutting edge service centers, well stocked parts sales centers, a reputed and reliable pre-owned car dealership and 24/7 Roadside Assistance that is just a phone call away.
Liberty Automobiles’ interactive mobile app allows customers to book service as well as test drives, while also recording their service history. Customers can also use the app to browse the Group’s lineup and offers.
Liberty provides a positively different, dynamic and genuinely friendly experience, wherever you are in the UAE. Our most recent accolade was winning the first and third place the 2017 Best Cadillac Service Centre Awards for our aftersales services in Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively.
The competition in the automotive industry is very aggressive in terms of offers and marketing investment. However, we have always relied on our deep-rooted pillar — customer satisfaction. This distinguishes us in the market and is part of our ongoing ‘Liberty Difference’ strategy.
4. The Chevrolet Bolt is one of the first electric vehicles to be launched in the UAE? What is the feedback from customers here for this model?
The UAE government has played a major role in the smooth rollout of electric cars. The region is gradually accepting the change of moving from fossil-fuel powered cars to electric cars. Liberty Automobiles sold the first Chevrolet Bold EV in July 2018. The Chevrolet Bolt EV is the brand’s first electric vehicle in the region and the first electric vehicle ever to combine clean technology with an anxiety-free range of over 500km on a single charge.
In line with unprecedented demand since its regional reveal at the 2017 Dubai International Motor Show late last year, the highly anticipated Chevrolet Bolt EV has received an enormously positive response. The Chevrolet Bolt EV has several wins in its segment, including largest capacity battery with 60KWh, which gives it a range of over 500km as per NEDC. It is also a spacious vehicle that seats five adults and features a spacious trunk space, making it a highly versatile and convenient vehicle. With these attributes, the Chevrolet Bolt EV is a car that just happens to be electric.
5. The government here is offering several incentives like free parking, free recharging, free registration and free Salik for those who switch from conventional vehicles to electric models. Do you think these incentives are adequate or do you feel that customers will need greater awareness and encouragement?
Thanks to the incentives launched by the UAE and Dubai Government departments, the journey towards transitioning to zero-carbon electric cars is gaining more attention. In addition to the benefits, the government as well as automobile companies in the region are educating people about each and every person’s responsibility towards the environment and the need to be living in an ecofriendly society.
Given the high price and low market supply at the moment, education about understanding the cost effectiveness of the vehicle is still needed. A number of organizations are coming together and offering incentives to support the electric cars. For example, DEWA has set the tariff for charging an e-vehicle at Green Chargers at 29 fils per kilowatt, RTA is offering that electric car users will receive 70 free parking spaces in 40 paid parking zones across Dubai and free car charging until end of 2019, Global EVRT installed over 20 charging stations in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaima, Fujairah, Dubai and Oman etc.
6. What are the promotional measures Liberty has undertaken for electric models like the Bolt in the region?
In June 2018, Liberty Automobiles installed a Chevrolet Bolt EV charging station for its customers. The development reflects Liberty’s dedication to promoting electric vehicles and a cleaner, greener era of transportation in the UAE in line with the government’s Clean Energy Strategy 2050. The new charging station is part of our ongoing strategy to sustain the dynamic market shift toward electric vehicles by raising public awareness of their benefits and making it as easy as possible for customers to make the switch.
7. New trends like ride sharing and electrification of vehicles are evolving at a rapid pace in the automotive sector. How have these developments affected the outlook for the market for new and used cars in the UAE?
We are confident that EV penetration will grow exponentially across the local market, in light of the UAE government’s strives and forward looking vision. With more brands entering the industry and elevating maturity levels in terms of market understanding, EVs will continue to gain popularity. According to initial market studies, a considerable number of new buyers in the UAE would consider a long-range electric vehicle as their primary and/or secondary vehicle, exemplifying the success and long term viability of electric vehicles.
8. With a high rate of accidents, road safety is another major concern in this region. What new technologies do models from Cadillac and the other brands that you handle offer when it comes to increasing the road safety and reliability of vehicles?
The greatest aspect of auto safety is the democratization of advanced, preventive safety features. Innovation in safety is not stopping any time soon, but the most remarkable development we have noticed in the past few years is the proliferation of advanced safety systems such as Blind Spot Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist, Low Speed Automatic Braking and Pedestrian Detection in affordable cars. These safety features are no longer reserved for premium and high cost models.
The shift we are observing from sedans to crossovers and SUVs is intensifying as far as trends are concerned, coupled with the concerted efforts being made by the UAE government in the fields of electrification and sustainable mobility. We expect to see automotive manufacturers focusing increasingly on electrification. In addition, we believe that autonomous cars are a question of when, not if. For instance, Cadillac CT6 super cruise technology represents one of the best semi-autonomous systems in the market.
9. Connectivity is another important factor that customers across the globe take into account when it comes to purchase of new vehicles. How important is vehicle connectivity when it comes to vehicle purchase in the UAE?
Digital transformation continues to increase in importance as consumers demand better features from their car including vehicle connectivity. The evolution of the automotive sector when it comes to customer expectations is to provide with latest technologies like digital cockpits that will become sleeker to include large touchscreens with tactile controls, and intelligent cars that will recognize a vehicle’s owner upon proximity. There is a welcoming landscape for the adoption of such tech in the UAE as it is a nation that embraces new technological trends and welcomes innovations of all kinds.
10. How do you feel connectivity and AI features contribute to enhancing the customer driving experience?
I believe AI will undoubtedly improve our industry. There are multiple areas that will be affected, starting with the most popular application of AI, Driverless Cars, which will impact many sectors and services such as taxis, delivery companies and public transportation. Improved assist features are another area where AI will aid in decreasing the number of human errors, resulting in fewer accidents and enhanced road safety. From a consumer to product level, connectivity will make data available that will provide companies with various insights that can go toward improving products and the overall driving experience.
11. Are there any challenges that are specific to this market?
Embedding AI into the automotive industry will require new structures around the mobility environment. With this technological revolution, it is up to our imagination to set expectations on what applications can do in terms of security and readings.
12. What are the key attributes that customers in the UAE look for when they buy a vehicle?
In addition to achieving a cost effective buy, customers are looking for the latest technologies and driver assistance features are becoming more commonplace, both in terms of helping the driver and minimizing traffic incidents. Driver awareness is at the core of safe driving. Heightening that level of awareness with support systems featuring sensors and radars is becoming one of the key attributes.
The market dynamics have changed and are continuously changing and current car buyers have so much information about a car prior to even test driving the model. However, understanding the buyer’s behavior, expectations and being able to convince him about the differentiating factors of the car models would eventually lead to a positive outcome.
With a focus on world-class quality, rapidly strengthening values and class-competitive fuel economy and emissions figures, we offer reduced total cost of ownership.
In the pursuit of service excellence, we provide a wide range of services, from tools to help customers support their vehicles, to information about warranties, vehicle service contracts and a competitive cost of scheduled maintenance.
13. What is the outlook for the automotive market in the UAE for the short-term and the long-term? How is this market different from other markets in the region?
According to a BMI report, vehicle sales in the UAE are expected to grow by 3.8 percent, representing almost a quarter of the GCC car sales market, coming in a close second to Saudi Arabia. While the report identifies Saudi Arabia’s expected growth at 4 percent, it is important to note that the UAE shows matchless potential given the difference in population.
For the long-term, I see strong growth prospects for the industry, thanks to a customer base that truly appreciates high-end products with increased demand on safety features and advanced technologies. This is complemented by the fact that the average age of an Emirati vehicle is approximately 33 percent far lower compared to global average.
Customers in the UAE look for immersive experiences and quality service. With an eye for added-value upgrades and service packages, UAE customers are discerning and we provide an acquired taste, which they tastefully pursue.
14. Customers in the UAE, unlike those in Europe and North America change their cars within a short period. Do you see this changing in the near future and thus having an impact on sales?
We see this already happening with our brands. The product quality, warranty and service packages are factors in customers retaining their vehicles for longer periods. This will naturally impact new car sales as we know it. However, there are other solutions in the market that will make up such as leasing options being considered by a larger segment.
15. Are you planning to launch any new models in this region? Can you share a few details?
By 2020, Cadillac will be launching 5 new models starting with the XT4, Cadillac’s first-ever compact SUV, in Q1 2019. The XT4 model will encompass advanced technologies such as Active Fuel Management and the next-generation Electronic Precision Shift, in addition to leading-edge connectivity features.
16. If there is one thing that you would like to share with our readers, what would that be?
The coming years are going to be very exciting for Liberty Automobiles on multiple fronts, as we provide a wide range of Service Packs with competitive rates. Stay tuned for our latest cutting-edge models, offering advanced engineering features, incredible performance levels and state-of-the-art driver-assist and connectivity technologies.
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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